Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Do Medical Assistants HAVE to Know the Drugs?

Here is a question I received from a visitor through the Advanced Medical Assistant of America web site contact form. The visitor asks:

"Do medical assistants HAVE to know the various forms of drugs, their uses, strengths, interactions, and how they are prescribed? Isn't that the doctor's job?"

I am more than happy to address this important question and try to explain a few related issues, not only because I have been asked the same question a number of times before , but also, because this question will help many others.

There is a reason why part of the vocational training of a medical assistant is pharmacology. Not only is training in pharmacology an important part of the medical assisting curriculum, it is an essential skill required for employment in a doctor's office or medical clinic as a medical assistant.

Safe and effective drug therapy requires more of a medical assistant than simply handing over a prescription, or administering a therapeutic drug as ordered by the physician. Medical assistants working in a medical office, clinic, or hospital are expected to have a basic knowledge of the most common medications. They must be familiar with basic forms and types of medications, prescription drugs (regulated drugs), and Over-The-Counter (OTC) medications, their brand and generic names, and their recommended dosages, and dosage forms. In addition, medical assistants must be able to read and understand medical terms, numerals, and abbreviations that appear on a prescription bottle label as well as on a written prescription or medication order issued by the physician.

Medical assistants need to be attentive to ensure that the physician is aware of all medications, both, prescription and OTC, that the patient is taking, and know the proper way of recording these medications in the patient's chart.

Also, medical assistants are expected to know the purpose and effects of drugs, and the conditions under which drugs may or may not be used (i.e. pregnancy, breast-feeding, allergies, risk), drug interactions, toxicity because they must be able to explain these facts and summarize possible interactions and reactions to these drugs to patients.

Furthermore: The medical assistant (just like any other nursing staff) is ethically and legally responsible for ensuring that the patient receives the correct medication ordered by the physician!!! Because controlled drugs are subject to many laws, a medical assistant is legally responsible for adhering to all related regulations. Therefore all medical assistants must be familiar with and follow federal, state, and legal guidelines, maintain awareness of federal and state health care legislation and regulations, and maintain and dispose of regulated substances in compliance with the national and state regulatory agencies and government (OSHA) guidelines.

The most efficient way to prepare for these responsibilities is to read the package inserts and drug labels that accompany all medications, whether they are drugs from drug company representatives (drug-reps), or drugs ordered by the practice. Another excellent source of information is the Physician's Desk Reference, or PDR, which most medical offices receive free of charge every year and be aware of office policies and procedures.

Anybody who wants to learn more about what the medical assistant should know about drugs and medication orders, can go to and read through the many tutorial like web pages--Free of course.

Don't forget to comment on this post. I am sure you have had certain experiences with medications, knowledge of their uses, and their safe handling in a medical office. Please share!!!

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